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How do you start healing your body with food?
In this episode, I speak with amazing guest, Dr. Uma Naidoo, who is a Nutritional Psychiatrist. We talk about recognizing the impact and its role in our lives on how to use food and diet to heal trauma.
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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation. Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode with our guest Nutritional Psychiatrist, Dr. Uma Naidoo. Dr. Naidoo, how are you, my friend?
Dr. Naidoo: I am wonderful. Thanks so much for hosting me.
Michael: It is my pleasure. I have very much been looking forward to this conversation. As many of the Unbroken Nation, this audience knows over the years, I've battled with my own issues around food and gut health and recognizing the impact and the role that it plays on our lives. And when I came across you and your information, your book, all the amazing podcasts you've been on I was like, please, we have to have her on the show because this is going to change people's lives if they're willing to pay attention. And so, first and foremost, I would love if you would just define for us what exactly is a nutritional Psychiatrist.
Dr. Naidoo: So, a Nutritional Psychiatrist is someone who has trained in psychiatry. It's a field that I'm very much pioneering, and I will say that what I bring to it is a combination of studying the coronary art, studying nutrition, because as doctors, we just simply don't get enough nutrition, education, maybe a class, maybe a lecture but most schools really don't have enough training as well as my training in psychiatry. So nutritional psychiatry's use of healthy whole foods and nutrients based on the scientific evidence to improve your mental wellbeing. It does not exclude the necessary use of medications or therapy. Therapy is a very big part of what I believe is improving mental health and in certain cases, medications are necessary. So, it really is meant to work in a collaborative way with any other form of treatment that a person is undergoing.
Michael: Yeah. And I think it's so incredible. I mean, the more research that we do, the more we hear things like food is medicine. I remember, I read Chris Kessler's book, the paleo cure, it changed my life forever because I didn't understand the impact of food and mental wellbeing. And now looking at it, there's so many correlations between what we are literally putting in our body and the way that we feel. But I'm really curious, like, how did you get into this? Because if you're kind of streamlining and being the 4runner here, where did this come from? It's quite fascinating.
Dr. Naidoo: So, several different things. My personal background culturally just was, grew up around a lot of food, love and family suddenly that was very imprinted on me, good food, healthy eating, not perfect, none of us is perfect, but certainly that impression. Then there was also the family influence, lots of physicians, doctor, scientists, and the family, and that had a strong influence. But one of the things that really happened early on in my career, is that I started to make this connection, being someone who loved food, I started to make the connection between what my patients were eating and how they were feeling. And I had a patient early on who as a very young trainee. He came in and kind of took off with me was a little bit upset because I had described Prozac and he felt that I had caused him to gain weight. Now looking at his medical record online, I could see it wasn't me and I knew that, but I also noticed he had this super huge, you know, 20-ounce cup of Dunkin donuts, coffee, typical of Boston in his hand. And I said, gee, well, you know, tell me what you've got in your coffee. Something intuitively occurred to me, not just to distract him cuz he was upset, but I thought, well, this is what he is consuming, let me ask him a question. It turned out that a few facts, you know, he was consuming more than a quarter cup of highly processed, sugary creamer, plus adding 80 spoons of sugar, which he didn't even realize, taking his coffee, checking it in, enjoying it. When I pointed out and we sat down and calculated the empty calories he was consuming, he realized this was something he now had control over simply by knowing the nutrition behind it, so that was powerful. His eyes lit up with that knowledge. And that really, for me, was almost like a light bulb moment because it was, he felt he could change. And I realized, wow, by simply interpreting something like that to an individual, he could feel empowered. And I realized the value of nutrition and how we were never speaking about it in mental health and in medical visits, regular primary care and other visits, it was just a checklist type of thing. And I began to ask more and, you know, part of when I hinted my cultural background, I was raised in a family that was sort of holistic, integrated approach to treatment Ayurveda practitioners but also mindfulness and that type of thing. So, I felt like, why are we just pulling out a prescription pad or electronically prescribing something, why aren't we asking more about exercise, everything else, but also food.
And so, I began to pursue that, the other part that's significant to say, though, is the research around the gut microbiome is more recent. And as that emerged, it really started to show how the gut and brain are connected and it explained the food mood connection. So, putting that all together is how I arrived at starting my clinic and beginning this work in a more formal way.
Michael: It's really beautiful work too, because I think that one of the big misnomers, especially in Western society is that we have the anticipation that just sitting down to a meal, we should presume that it's healthy and you kind of find that that's not really the truth. And before we get into that, because I have some really interesting questions for you. I wanna first start with kind of the correlation between the foods that we are consuming and the detrimental potential ramifications of those foods. And if there are certain foods like processed foods, like sugars, like substitutes that can lead to depression, anxiety, or any other ramifications that maybe we're just not aware of and what we should be paying attention to?
Dr. Naidoo: Right. So, you know, there are different nuances in the different mental health conditions, but there are some general things that I think people should know. The thing though, is most people associate that with their waistline or weight gain or family history of type two diabetes, they don't link it to their mental health and herein is really the power of nutritional psychiatry. It's those highly processed, ultra-processed, junk foods, processed foods fast, seed oils, which process vegetable oils and seed oils, which many fast-food restaurants use because it's cheaper. And then, you know, the Fructose corn syrup is, which is also in many savory foods you don't even realize it. So, it's not just a sugary candy or something that has sugar, it's also other foods, artificial sweetness is another big one. And so, you know, the wrong types of fats, the kind of shelf, stable baked goods that have those fats that are unhealthy for our body. Many of those things, people think if I do that, if I eat that I'm gonna gain weight, but they also affect your mental health.
Here's a quick one. You know, if you're eating lunch meats for maybe a what you think is a healthy lunch meat, but it contains nitrates that actually drives depression. If you are thinking, oh, you know, Dr. Naidoo who talked about eating yogurt, because yogurt has actually talked about blueberries and she talked about yogurt, I'm gonna get a blueberry yogurt. Well, a fruited yogurt, a half cup can have up to eight teaspoons of sugar in it. So, it's not that blueberries or yogurt are not healthy, it's that the fruited yogurts and the way in which they are kind of brought forward through advertising people think, oh, that's the great option. But the added sugar really knocks away the positive benefit. So, have the plain yogurt, if you consume dairy and have the blueberries with it, but don't buy the fruited kind. Those are just some simple things that, you know, we don't realize sometimes when we shopping or buying our food.
Michael: What is happening as the body is metabolizing sugar that can lead to depression or anxiety, or with nitrates leading to increased levels of depression. Like what is actually happening from a physiological perspective?
Dr. Naidoo: Yeah. So, one of the mechanisms, a few different mechanisms that are being explored and are being at evolving as we understand nutritional psychiatry, but one of them is oxidative stress and inflammation. Inflammation in the body is really being seen as underlying conditions like depression, anxiety, and even cognitive disorders. So, if you think back to just what we are eating, when we are eating an unhealthy meal, the food is processed the gut and brain are connected. So, our digestive tract, we started, we swallowed, it starts to interact with our gut goes to our stomach, that also involves this interaction with the gut microbes. When you are healthier foods, those breakdown products of digestion also include positive substances for your body and for your brain, one of those is short chain fatty acids. But when you're eating the kind of just the you're always in the fast-food lane and eating the foods that we know are unhealthy. The breakdown products are more toxic to the body and to those microbes and they are toxic metabolites that they interact with the bad microbes in the gut. Right. Because they're good microbes and bad microbes. Good microbes are there to cheer on, help us with many bodily functions from sleep and circadian rhythm, which is our internal bottom body clock, hormones, vitamin production, immunity, many things, including mental health. So, when they are not being nurtured, but their bad neighbors are being nurtured those bad microbes take over time and sets up for gut inflammation. Gut inflammation, because there's a single cell layer lining the gut, is easily disrupted and gut got information therefore, through the loop and through that system being connected can lead to brain information.
So, it really starts there one of the mechanisms, and I use that example because it touches the oxidative stress, it touches the inflammation than your information. And because we are eating chewing and swallowing our food, it's an easier mechanism to understand.
Michael: One of the things that took me a really long time to connect the dots on is that our gut is effectively and this depends on who you ask more intelligent than our brain and that the food that we're putting into our gut matters so much that it really kind of controls everything that happens to us. And for a long time, my diet consistent and I've shared this, so, I consisted of fast food, 15 to 25 times a week. And I found that that holds true for so many people. I think that one of the most difficult aspects of talking about nutrition is looking at it from a cost perspective. How can people navigate, especially right now, we're in inflation, we are dealing with no people getting more money for their jobs, prices are going up and McDonald's is still like a dollar they're gonna sue me one day, I talk shit about McDonald's all the time. I don't care, they're dollar. Right? You can go there and feed your whole family for 10 bucks but if you want healthy options, it's incredibly expensive. So, two-part question, one - can you kind of define what healthy food means? And then two - how can people who are maybe in food deserts be able to get more access to healthy food?
Dr. Naidoo: That's a great question. You know, the first one is that, let's go to the first, let's do it this in order. You know, I think that foods need to be accessible to people and that's a given and we know that that's not always the case. Many people think that you knew you go to the supermarket and you only should shop the aisles as an example. And I apologize, I'm mixing up the questions, would you mind repeating the question?
Michael: That's okay. No problem at all. I threw two, actually I should have done one. Don't apologize. Let's start with question one. If you can just simply define your thoughts on what healthy food.
Dr. Naidoo: So, healthy food is thinking back to just eating healthy whole foods like real foods. So, think about a simple example, I love to give, which is eat the orange, you know, from the peel to everything you eat in that orange, not that you eat the peel, but you can actually zest it into a salad or even zest it into a bake that you're making is healthy and has nutrients skip the store, bought orange juice that has no fiber, it has a ton of added sugar, it's not the healthy choice. So, I'd like people to remember that because just think of the whole food versus it being processed, ultra-processed, put into another form. Now, I say that, but it's also very hard to avoid processed foods I'm saying try it, a lot of the time to aim for those whole foods, it could even be frozen. Frozen berries in this country, frozen vegetables, as long as they don't have added sauce, sodium or sugar that type of thing can actually be a pretty healthy option for you.
So, I'd like you to just think how many times, you know, if I'm going to the fast-food restaurant, are there things I can even buy? Can I move from a fast food, chicken outlet? Can I go get a rotisserie chicken or do a baked chicken in the oven? Simple ingredients. I'm not asking you to buy the fanciest spices or herbs just bake it yourself or get it at a supermarket. It's gonna be a better option the ultra-process fast food. The second thing is there are food deserts and there are places that people simply don't have access, but there's also a little bit of a misnomer that we can't afford brain foods on a budget and that is because we think, oh, you can only walk the outer perimeter of the supermarket. Certainly, the produce aisle is one place I want you to be spending time. Certainly, seafood is another option if you consume it. But there are center aisles have things like canned salmon, canned muscles, canned sardines really healthy brain foods and inexpensive, canned legumes, canned beans, chickpeas are a great example, just result if you're not using the liquid, it comes in, runs it out, and use it for food, cook it, add it to salads, whatever it is, these nutritious fiber rich foods that are inexpensive, a bag of beans, a bag of mentals for family can actually last quite some time. So, it's good to know that there are other options, not just cookies and candy in the center aisles. Then I mentioned the frozen food example, you don't have to get that whole side of wild fancy salmon, you can get it canned.
I actually spent some time the other day doing some research and I went into several dollar stores and I actually found canned salmon, I found a couple places with canned sardines that were really inexpensive. So, even if you don't have access to the best supermarket, if you even place like that, where you can get canned beans, you know, we are not talking about the extra one with sources, of course, but you might be able to get, can seafood as a better option and as something you can spend a dollar on or just a little bit more.
Michael: I think that is so incredibly helpful in real time, I am thinking through my buying habits and behaviors and maybe this is just my own programming and what I think it means to be quote unquote healthy and I love that you use the terminology misnomer because I, for years have been like, I'm not gonna buy cans that can't be healthy. And now thinking this through with you, I'm like, wait a second, so as long as I'm watching the sodium and there's no added preservatives, it's probably we've been canning stuff for the entirety of our human existence, why would we not be, literally this is happening in real time.
Dr. Naidoo: But you know that, so this is another point of confusion, right? And I'm so glad you brought that up because for example, canned green beans or canned vegetables, if you look at them, they don't bright and vibrant, like you would a fresh vegetable or frozen because you can open a bag of frozen broccoli and its bright green because it's flash frozen. This is important because those canned vegetables, they better choice than eating a processed food, it's all on a continuum, but they're not gonna be as nutrient dense as that frozen version, but you can get a bag of frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli for very little money in the frozen section, you don't have to go learn how to peel the clean the cauliflower and all of that.
So, with cans, we wanna think canned legumes that would not with added sources or canned different types of canned salmon, anchovies, because those contain the omega threes, right? The sardines, the macro all of those are rich brain foods but you know, canned fruit be a little because sometimes they're in fruit juice and it may be inexpensive for you to just buy an apple, if you can get hold of one or a banana. And so, even with canned foods, you're absolutely right, we've been preserving in canning foods for ages, but even there, we just wanna look a little bit carefully, spend a minute and learn it that way, but it's possible.
Michael: Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I think that's super helpful. You know, growing up a lot of our food did come from storehouses and it was processed cheese, powdered milks, I mean, you name it right? And so, that's kind of how I always thought of food, if it's in a can, it's unhealthy, but I love what I'm hearing now. And just going actually, it's an option if you're paying attention, which I think is really powerful. What I'm wondering, you know, you talked about the importance of omega 3’s and brain health. Can you kind of distill down what that means and what is happening to our brain when we are consuming healthy, omega 3’s?
Dr. Naidoo: So, you know, the omega 3s from seafood are generally the ones that have the best brain benefit. Now there are individuals, um, I have to be vegetarian and I may not be, I don't, so I can don't consume seafood and I get my plant-based omegas from GCs, flax seeds, walnuts, and that type of thing. There is a slight difference, the short chain omega threes called ALA breaching the brain, but I make it up in other ways. So, sometimes vegetarians can take an algo supplement, but for the actual, if you consume seafood, these are rich brain foods they're good for you, they have anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and the body. And that inflammation is now being seen in research and shown as an underlying call. So having those a couple of servings a week, a couple of times a week is super helpful to reduce inflammation in your body, help with that process. So, just one way that EPA, DHA can be effective for you. There's of course, new research around where the availability of each of those is reaching the brain, et cetera, I'm not gonna bore you with that, the bigger principle here is eat the whole foods when you can, these are brain rich foods and if you consume seafood, those are good options for you.
Michael: Is the bioavailability the same if you're supplementing versus eating the whole food?
Dr. Naidoo: So, you know, I feel, if people are eating these foods, they may not need to supplement, but none of us eat a perfect diet. So, there is a reason that people may want to supplement. So, some of it depends on how they're feeling, whether they have access, whether they're interested, some people prefer supplement well, I'm still a food first person, but I've also to experience clinically and research wise understood that there are gaps in our nutrition. So, it's perfectly fine to supplement, you know, in a supplemental form, usually they're engineered towards absorption in your body, et cetera, doesn't mean that you can't get good nutrient benefits from eating things like whole salmon or canned salmon things like that.
Michael: Yeah, I love that. And I think as we're going through this, I'm retracing a lot of my just personal relationship with food and a lot of the personal relationships I see my clients have with food and this idea that for many of us, especially if we grew up in traumatic households, there's often like food trauma and correlation with the experiences of our life. And what I'm wondering is how do people start to build a healthy relationship with food if historically it's been traumatic for them?
Dr. Naidoo: That's such a great question. You know, I think that this is where parts of support that individuals can get are often overlooked. This is where therapy attending a group, having a sense of community, whether it be through a spiritual organization or community-based organization can be so supportive in helping to heal that trauma, helping to rework how you feel around a meal, or even sometimes around a certain food that may have had the traumatic memory associated with it.
So, I think that first and foremost healing, that relationship as best you can in therapy is one of the best ways to do it, having awareness, having a supportive in group of individuals, maybe it's not your biological family, maybe some of those members are, it just depends on your individual situation. But one of the things that I've realized through clinical experience and my own research is that when individuals are struggling in their actual relationship with food, it can be harder to then say, oh, you know, eat this for your brain health, because they're actually struggling with just even getting the right food or overcoming a really painful association with a certain food. So, at stages of healing, it really is stages of healing. And I think that not everyone has to be assessed to see where they're at and what they can do based on their own individual story. So, it's very much a personalized nutritional psychiatry plan perhaps some of it may involve work and therapy for a while or other forms of treatment until they can start to heal that and then say, you know, now I'm ready to go on a healthy supermarket, trip and pick out these foods or order these groceries online cause I feel I can. So, it really is staging that people have to go through until they feel, they can embrace food in that healthier way, because we want to heal that relationship and have them have a healthy relationship than they did with food.
Michael: Absolutely. And for me in that experience, a lot of it did come through therapy and actually a huge jumping that came for me with EMDR. But I'm thinking in real time, are there simple things, let's say some people maybe they don't have access to community or they can't afford therapy, I'm always trying to just kind of paint the canvas here. Are there any things particularly that people can do on their own to start changing or building a healthy relationship with food after traumatic experiences?
Dr. Naidoo: I think practicing mindfulness and practicing things like learning, you can Google a simple relaxation or breathing exercise online, right? Even on your phone and using that to help calm down your system, be mindful in the moment of this food triggers me. So, rather than go down that island, the supermarket, can I try this aisle first? So maybe you're gonna go through the center aisle and you're gonna avoid something around the seafood or the meat, some something that who knows what that memory may be for you, maybe start there, you know, start to build relationships with healthier foods, have a mindfulness moment or do a simple breathing exercise in your car or on the train however, you're getting to buy your food because that can help send to you, it can calm down your autonomic nervous system, which is an overdrive at that point even simple things like taking a walk, spending time in sunlight, you know, 10 minutes of outdoor time, and sunlight gives you 90% of your vitamin D; vitamin D is very healing for things like depression and anxiety. So, building in things like that can be very overall healing to your body using a more integrated and holistic approach. You know, some people feel more grounded if their actual feet touch the earth, so that could be something taking their shoes off, taking a walk outside as long as it's safe and as long as that is broken glass or something outside, but you just feeling grounded, feeling centered. There are many things that people that I suggest depending on who I'm working with and these I think can all help towards that healing process.
Michael: That's beautiful. And one of the things I'm wondering about is, you know, we all get triggered. I don't think it's avoidable, I think that the idea that it will never happen is as a non-starter. One of the things that we know is that people build in autonomic responses and defensive mechanisms and coping mechanisms around being triggered, especially to satiate with food. Right? And in my experience, I'm now recovering gummy bear addict and I think about this all the time. What if somebody is triggered and they know that when they are in that place, maybe they fight flight freeze, maybe they're disassociated, maybe who knows what's happening, but they're filling it in their body and their go to is something unhealthy because it makes them feel safe, loved whatever that response is. Is it mindfulness that helps them maybe not go that direction? Are there some other things that they could be doing so that they don't reach for that think ‘cuz I think subconsciously we kind of know, don't do that thing, don't eat that thing, it makes me feel terrible. But in the moment, you need to satiate the pain.
Dr. Naidoo: I completely understand that. And there are different ways to go and in part, it depends on what that food or what that trigger might be. But here are some tips that I've worked on with individuals. Identify in when they're in therapy or when they're working with a clinician or even on their own. If they've identified, there are just certain things that trigger them. When they're in a calm space and they're feeling okay, identifying environmental triggers, having healthy options that pair up with the unhealthy options. So, here's one say they always have two tubs of ice cream on the freezer, and that's their go to food because guess what? If they get triggered, they know that's gonna help comfort them. My suggestion and I did this once with someone are they taught them to make an ice cream from whole bananas. And it's in chapter 11 of this is your brain on food, it has like two or three ingredients you can even make chocolate flavor with brain healthy, natural cacao powder, it’s great for your brain. And here's what I kind of work with them to do, have both available in your freezer and try to test if you can get by with less of the scoop of the unhealthy ice cream, the ones that's highly sugar, highly processed, and one scoop of the alternative as one way to start to switch that trigger, but also start to train yourself that there's more than one option. And if they can do it over time, what I try to help them do is now we are only gonna make those ice creams with made with fresh fruit or made with frozen fruit, whatever it is that are better than a highly processed, highly sugar, right? Cause you can control a drop of honey in the banana ice cream that you make versus a ton of added sugar in the ice cream, so that's one way to do it. Mindfulness has worked with people, but it all depends on working with them on how they can respond because I agree with you, you make an excellent point. We can't actually change the trigger, it's going to continue happening, it's but we can change the response to the trigger. And that's where environment and changing actual alternatives can make a difference as well.
Michael: That makes a ton of sense. And you said something that really made me pause for a moment and you said you people have to train themselves. How much of in those moments of being triggered and moving towards that stuff is behavioral?
Dr. Naidoo: You know, as a psychiatrist, I'm always so aware that when someone is in the height of a panic attack, you never say calm down, right? It's like you don't that because you understand over time, you may be trying to comfort them, but it's like the wrong thing to say, well, I shouldn't say wrong, that's a strong term, but it sometimes can be worse for an individual. In a similar, when I use the word train, I think I use it loosely on that moment. You may be so triggered that you just going go for the ice cream, right? What I am suggesting is when you're feeling okay, have these alternatives in your freezer, your cabinet, so that you have the choice when you're triggered, because over time, the part you can train is okay, now I have chocolate ice cream and I have banana chocolate ice cream. I know that I'm very used to calming myself with this pie process, chocolate ice cream. Can I have a scoop of each? Can I just try in this moment since it's both available right in front of me to try both and can I train myself over time that, Hey, this doesn't taste so bad and I can actually eat that. So, you slowly working with yourself, you're giving yourself space, you're giving grace, allow yourself to explore that. It's not as though, you know, it's gonna work immediately, but it may work over time if you're open to it and you truly wanna find a solution.
Michael: That makes a lot of sense to me. It's preparedness in a sense because knowing ultimately, it's probably gonna show up and it's being prepared for that moment. And one of the things that I especially appreciate about you and the way that you have these conversations is that you're neither dogmatic about anything particular nor, or I should say and you are very like diet agnostic, which I think is really important, especially in the world that we live in now where everyone's like be carnivore, be vegan, be paleo, be this, be that. And what I always hear from you is like, no, no, do what feels good for your body eat and exist in a way that makes your brain for you. Your brain and that makes me wanna come back and close a loop on something. We talked about processed food, leading this place of being, having inflammatory processes and properties, are there any super foods that are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory that maybe instead of being dogmatic and say, stop eating all the things always forever. Go, can we add this food to start creating change?
Dr. Naidoo: So, things like simple food groups that really start to impact change that are simple to start to incorporate at things, so I'm gonna say gut friendly foods because by eating gut friendly foods, you're taking care of those good microbes, you're nurturing them, they will nurture you back is the short way to think about it. Prebiotic foods, garlic leaks, onions, bananas, oats, so many foods I list them all in the book. Eating fermented foods, learning, training yourself to learn, to enjoy and appreciate some fermented foods, kimchi, kombucha, would you ever wanna appeals to you these show the reduction of inflammation in very recent research done about a year ago now out of Stanford University. Good to know that we've now proven this and it can help to reduce inflammation in the body. But it's also thinking about fiber rich foods, now this is an easy one, cause it's a really big category. You can get fiber from vegetables, berries, beans, not seeds, legumes, healthy, whole grains, the fiber again, nurture the gut, all of these foods are naturally antioxidant, anti-inflammatory the plant foods. So, the veggies and the berries, they all have these polyphenols, which interact with the microbes and are super helpful. So, think about this is the one food I can have. I want you to think about, you know, 80% of the time, can I start to include more of these foods in my diet? How easy it is it for me to add a different, more colors of veggies and fruit to my diet, what textures these are actually just naturally being, bringing in nutrients to what you're eating and untapped resources spices are inexpensive, salt free, sugar free, literally calorie free, cuz I just want you to buy the regular spice, no blend, adding them in can be very powerful, not only to up the flavor of your food, but they have some great brain benefits. So those are some ways to get started. You know, blueberries I definitely think are helpful tune with a pinch of black pepper, but I want you to start picking, you know, going for those sulfur rich veggies, the cauliflower brussel sprouts cabbage, all pretty inexpensive that you can get in the supermarket, fresher, frozen, and start to incorporate in your diet.
Michael: I'll just share my own personal journey. Going through and adding healthy foods, watching myself go from 350 pounds to 215 was this really incredible shift. And it wasn't just a shift physically and I think that's one of the, the misnomers and disconnects people have about putting healthy and good food in your body. It was the mental and emotional capacity that I had just to navigate the world. I found myself being triggered less, I found myself being hypervigilant less, I found myself in lots of different situations as a person that has an ACE score of 10, it's been very difficult for me to navigate the world. And I found like, just paying attention to the little things that I put in my body just makes a huge difference ‘cuz there's some foods that you name like my body will not process like if you give me kale, I might as well be on the ground crying for the next four hours.
Dr. Naidoo: I'm so glad you brought up that point because here's the thing, you know, when we talk about fiber rich foods, you may have to help your gut heal, you may be in a different stage of gut healing or even have a different condition. You may have some IBS, IBC, Crohn’s, ulcer of colitis, something where fiber, which foods are going to upset you. So, that's why these plans have to be so intensely personalized for individuals. And I've had mother and daughter respond to the exact same healthy food, they biologically related had opposite responses. So, the gut microbiome is like a thumbprint and therefore these are general suggestions, but they do have to be fine-tuned to you.
Michael: Yeah. And I think that makes a lot of sense, cuz there's what almost 8 billion people on planet earth and nobody has the same thumbprint. And that's why I always think it's really interesting when we have conversations about food, it's like pay attention to your body. You know, maybe keep a food journal, maybe have conversation with a psychologist or a therapist who can help you understand, especially if you're dissociated ‘cause I remember I would eat these crazy foods, I would feel terrible, be like, this is fine. And you know, it's like, what happens is when you start to bring more awareness to it, you recognize that's not necessarily true. But I think a big part of what happened for me was looking at understanding the scope of marketing now, especially, but you know, rewind 15, 20 years ago, everything was quote unquote healthy. Right? We went through this series of here's all these protein bars, here's all these shakes, here's all this and all that. I think even now you go and look at some of the got milk campaigns that are around town and there's this slogan on one, that's on a billboard in my city that says hydrates better than water. And I would just love to know your thoughts about the marketing that's happening around food, not only just now, but historically, and how we can bring more awareness to this?
Dr. Naidoo: You know, it's so helpful for people to be able to have someone interpret information from them. And I wanna say this with absolute respect because when you see something like you think, oh my God, I'm drinking all this water. Let me throw it up. And I've had individuals, make these changes in response to something they read or see on television, in a media couple or whatever it might be here. Here's the problem though, you know, we are surrounded by diet dilemmas and food wars. And it would be hard for me as a nutritional biologist to say, you know, oh, sure, drink all that milk and skip the water because if you do consume the right type of dairy could work for you. There are also people in the world who are lactose intolerant. So, dairy can be one of those foods that is, we have to assess whether it works for you and when it does, it can work great for people and be a great, healthy, nutritious food. But I wanna know that they do consume it and be wanna ask them to get more responsible sources of it, because then it's gonna it's gonna be a healthier version of what just the regular supermarket mode. But no, you know, water is the most hydrating of what we should be doing, hydration is so impactful in terms of lowering anxiety I've seen people who are dehydrated, have a panic attack, depression can be associated with being constantly dehydrated. So, it would be really hard for me to believe that one fact about looking at what evidence this company provided.
Now, that being said, when we see ads, we just need to take a moment and try to find out a little bit more, before we just believe it and change paths to a certain food, certain super food. I mentioned the yogurt earlier, that's one to think about as well.
Michael: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And you know, there's so many hidden things in our foods. I recall you saying that there are over 200 different names for sugar. Did I write that down correctly?
Dr. Naidoo: That is correct. And in fact, that I looked at recently said it was up to two 50 or more other names for sugar on food labels. So, a great one that I quote all the time is brown rice syrup because people think of brown rice as a healthy alternative to just regular white rice. And yet brown rice syrup is just simply sugar, so, having that awareness line and knowing that food labels are very tricky because you can, the first five ingredients may be other names for sugar and you don't realize it. So, just another tip our food labels are in pounds, the recipes in the United States are standard two pounds and ounces. So, any cookbook, any recipe that you see if it's based in the United States will be in pounds and ounce answers, but our food labels and grams, so many people cannot interpret that. So, it helps to know that four grams of sugar is one teaspoon and if you start to convert that way, you realize that you might be drinking coffee at a coffee store that says nonfat, low-fat, whatever. But if you actually look at the app and look at the grams of sugar, it may be many more grams of sugar than you realize, but if you convert it to teaspoons, you think, well, should I really be putting 10 teaspoons of sugar in something, you know, probably not if you either making it at home or just getting a cup of regular black coffee, would you be adding 10 teas of sugar? So, those little things on the go, or when you're shopping or when you're buying food become important.
Michael: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it seems like sugar in, and this is just my opinion and I am not a doctor, I'm not a scientist nor nutritionist and I do not intend to be one, but I have often thought to myself, like sugar is probably if not the most detrimental, probably one of the most detrimental things that we could be putting in our human body. Like, does that hold up for you?
Dr. Naidoo: So, there are forms. Sugar is definitely a substance that we need to consume as part of our daily lives but the form of sugar becomes important because the high fructose syrup, the simply the sugar that is going to impact ultimately your neurons is important. And therefore, sugar's not the best food for your brain health, but we have to understand that we consume sugar in many different forms all of the time, often, naturally, and through foods that we are eating like fruit. So, it's balancing them up if you cannot lean into the candy and the chocolates and the cookies and the sugar donuts? And move toward a healthier norm of fruit berries, the banana ice cream with two ingredients, that type of stuff if you move yourself along that continuum, you're going to be moving in a healthier direction. It's very hard to say, you know, give up everything at once. And I think that's where these extreme diets really don't work for people. So, and I'm not talking about elimination, you're gonna eliminate something and in fact, in mental health, they often do that with someone if I suspect something could be triggering a symptom and then by eliminating, you know actually no difference so we continue eating it, maybe read a healthier version of it.
So, short term elimination pieces are completely fine, I just don't like people to give up in Thai food groups because unless they have an allergy and tolerance, this is where I see a boom rang effect, they give it up for a month and then the next month eating, that's all they can eat. It kinda like, you know, defeats on purpose for anyone of us. Right.
Michael: Totally, I mean, at one point I had given up cashews and it had been a couple of months and I went to the store and there was this big, beautiful jar of cashews, I was like, I want cashews, a guy, I ate the whole thing and like one day. And so, it's like, I do think being dogmatic is really, really dangerous and so I personally, I try to steer away from that and I love what you just said, cuz it makes so much sense to me. Are there any logical reasons to have things like alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, CBD in our diets?
Dr. Naidoo: So, you know, there's so many pluses and minuses for almost everything. Right. And I think the one I take probably the strongest downset because well, it also depends on the opinion and it depends on whom you ask, cuz someone could say alcohol equals cigarettes, someone else could say and so let me share my position. I think that we have a ton of evidence around cigarette smoke. We have a ton of evidence from the lung cancer association, other diseases cause smoking doesn't just affect lung cancer, it affects other parts of your body function and smoking can actually lead to other forms of cancer, not just lung. So, as a physician first and foremost, I know we have a lot of evidence about that. I think that as a psychiatrist, I've seen that there's evolving research around CBD, cannabis psychedelics, and I think that remains to be watched and we review the research, it's not my area of specialty. I really don't feel I can offer great guidance on that, but I think let's see what the research shows, you know. We have to follow the evidence, we have to follow how people are doing, where I think people get into a little bit of struggle with this is if it's become legalized in a certain state recreational use can still be, cause I've seen this in the emergency rooms when I've done shifts. You know, it can still be laced with something and a person may think they simply using cannabis or smoking a joint, but actually it can lead to devastating changes in their mental status. So, note to off it's just something to be cautious about and the research is evolving when it comes to alcohol, I go back to that, you know, trying not to be dogmatic and say, look, if you consume alcohol, do it responsibly, clean cocktails, you know, not all the added sugar, simple syrup but simply sugar. So, you know, those mixed drinks that you have, and you may just wanna switch it up with pink cocktail and always switch out with a glass of water to hydrate yourself, red wine, it has some proven benefits. So, have a glass of red wine, I'm not saying give it up, just drink responsibly if you do and move towards clean cocktails and if you're struggling a little bit, as many people have during COVID, then reach out for help.
Michael: Yeah, it's beautiful. And thank you for sharing that. I think ultimately there are so many different tools here. There's so much great work that you've done, obviously in 45 minutes, we can't give them a lifetime of expertise. But before I ask you my last question, can you tell everyone where they can find out more about you and especially your book?
Dr. Naidoo: Thank you so much. Please, meet me on my website, subscribe to my newsletter, where you get all the information and everything I'm up to that's umanaidoomd.com. Follow me on social that's @drumanaidoo we always posting updated research, updated information, just to share with everyone about where we are in nutritional psychiatry. My book is available anywhere books are sold, it's called This is Your Brain on Food. I'm excited and blessed to say it's gonna have its second anniversary in a few days. And it's still going strong and I'm really honored that people have found benefit from it and I can only hope and pray that they continue to, because it really signifies my mission in terms of helping people with their mental health, through food. I hope you'll check it out. Thank you.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And we'll put all those links in the show notes for the audience. My last question for you, my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?
Dr. Naidoo: You know, I was thinking about this and I feel that the more times that I am tapped into an innocence of bliss, it comes sort of from my Hindu roots and that I'm aligned with the mission is the way that I can describe being unbroken because if I can tune in to where my mission is, I can find ways to feel unbroken.
Michael: Beautifully said I actually resonate with that a ton. Thank you so much, my friend, thank you for being here.
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Psychiatrist, Nutrition Expert, Chef
Dr. Uma Naidoo is a board-certified Harvard-trained psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author of This is Your Brain on Food. She is the founding director of the only academic clinic in Nutritional Psychiatry and Director of Nutritional and Metabolic Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital(MGH), Harvard Medical School. Her work sits at the intersection of mental health, nutrition, and culinary arts and provides a unique integrative, functional, and holistic treatment option. Dr. Uma has appeared as a mental health and nutrition expert on Live with Kelly & Ryan, Today Show, 700 Club, and featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Shape, Parade, Boston Globe, Fast Company, AARP, and more.